Your Buttery Thanksgiving: What You Need to Know

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Butter is back — though depending on whom you ask, it never went away — and there’s no better time to celebrate it than on one of the most butter-friendly holidays of the year.

We’re starting to see more and more varieties of butter in stores — not just the regular salted and unsalted sticks, but local butters, grass-fed butters, cultured (sometimes called European-style) butters and even goat butters. Here’s what you need to know for your butteriest Thanksgiving yet.

Stick butters are our go-to for basic cooking — sauteing veggies for stuffing, whisking into gravy to finish it, brushing over a turkey before it goes into the oven. With stick butter, it’s generally better to go with unsalted so you can add your own salt to the dish as you see fit.

Cultured butters are made by allowing the cream to ferment slightly before it’s churned into butter; this gets you a tangier, more pronounced cheesy flavor, as well as a slightly higher butterfat content (86 percent versus 80 to 83 percent in noncultured butter) that lends itself very well to pastry production. The more butterfat in butter, the less water, so the crisper and flakier the dough becomes.

Grass-fed butters and local butters can often be significantly more flavorful than stick butter, as a grass-fed or pastured (that is, varied) diet for cows ends up affecting the flavor of the milk. These are our favorite butters when flavor counts: compound butters, whisking into butter caramel, brown butter glazes for root vegetables and the like.

Eating butters (not their technical term, but that’s how we think of them) can be any combination of the above: cultured or noncultured, grass-fed or not, local or not (there are some regions of France that are famous for their butter, and they make incredibly delicious butters according to exacting local specifications). But these butters are the ones that are so tasty that it’d be a shame to do anything with them besides eat them (on a slice of bread, on a baked potato, on a spoon if no one’s looking). With these, salted is totally fine — some of these have larger salt crystals that crunch in your mouth, some have a fine dusting of sea salt on top, and some don’t have any salt at all.

Butter Temperature Guide:

Frozen (or extra-cold) and grated for delicate, flaky pie doughs

Fridge-temp for sliding under turkey breast skin

Room-temp to make compound butters

Melted for brushing onto turkey

Browned for glazing carrots

Check out Food Network’s Thanksgiving headquarters for all the recipes, how-tos and ideas you need for the big feast.

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How to Brine a Turkey

Photos by Heather Ramsdell